Equal parts harrowing and hilarious, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, concerns the disappearance of a semi-dysfunctional mother (aren’t we all?) as told through the eyes of her super-smart eighth grade daughter, Bee.
Bernadette is as smart as her daughter, but considerably more acerbic and decidedly misanthropic. It turns out she has been on the run for some time, even as she seemingly settles into a life of eccentric motherhood in a spectacularly run-down house in Seattle. Her husband, Elgie, is a rockstar-style exec at Microsoft, working non-stop; their life at home consists of take-out dinners and beating back invasive blackberry vines — UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS.
The action unfolds as Bee comments on her experiences in between emails from a loopy cast of characters; there are side-splitting brand-speak rants about her school, creepy emails among frenemies (Bernadette dismisses them as “gnats” even as they cause considerably more trouble), and Bernadette’s rambling, poignant, semi-confessional screeds to her outsourced virtual assistant in India.
The absurd fun turns serious when Bernadette actually goes missing, and the denouement is touching and profound — and like life, a good bit messy in the end. What starts as a romp actually has some serious things to say about relationships, parenting, grief, creativity, loss and resiliency. A beach read with smarts; like Bernadette and Bee, this novel has fun while being intelligent, and ultimately, embracing life.